Morsy Addresses Nation Amid Political Crisis
Egypt's highest religious authority urges the president to delay the constitutional vote
Reza Sayah, Ian Lee and Michael Pearson CNN
December 06, 2012CAIRO (CNN) -- Hasan Amin has been here before.
The thugs with knives and rocks chasing down protesters. Presidential backers belittling the opposition, accusing them of using "crude and contemptible ways of expression," to quote the Muslim Brotherhood. The pressure to go home and be quiet.
A few years ago, the thugs belonged to former President Hosni Mubarak. Now, Amin says, it's President Mohamed Morsy and his backers in the Muslim Brotherhood wielding the oppression.
"It's exactly the same battle," the CNN iReporter said.
Morsy, the target of intense anger from Egypt's fractious liberal opposition is expected to speak to the nation Thursday night after violent protests outside his presidential palace that left five people dead and at least 688 wounded.
He will make an important announcement, his chief of staff said without elaboration.
Opposition leaders say just one thing will mollify them: Morsy must roll back his recent edict granting himself expanded presidential powers and postpone the scheduled December 15 referendum on a proposed constitution.
The chances of that seem remote -- Morsy has defended the edict as necessary to defend the revolution and his administration has steadfastly said the referendum will go ahead as planned.
But protesters -- who say Morsy is consolidating power for himself and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood -- say they're committed to forcing the president to bend to the democratic will of the 2011 revolution that ousted Mubarak and led to the country's first free presidential elections this year.
"This is not what we asked for," one protester told CNN's Reza Sayah Wednesday. "It's a complete dictatorship."
Morsy's actions and the growing anger over them are the strongest test yet for Egypt's fragile democratic experiment.
Because Egypt is a key player in the unstable Middle East and North Africa, what happens there has important ramifications far beyond its borders, and is being followed closely worldwide.
"We have been watching the events unfolding in Cairo with growing concern," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday while attending a security conference in Dublin, Ireland. "The upheaval we are seeing once again in the streets of Cairo and other cities indicates that dialogue is urgently needed, and we urge all the stakeholders to settle their disputes through discussion and debate, not through violence."
Outside the presidential palace in Cairo Thursday, tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled into view ahead of an announcement by the military unit tasked with protecting the capital that it would clear the shattered district after days of protests.
Morsy supporters quickly scattered ahead of the military convoy. A handful of anti-Morsy protesters stood firm under flickering streetlights as night fell.
The area looked like a war zone. Piles of rubble and burned cars littered the streets. The doors of nearby storefronts were smashed in.
"Soldiers were erecting barbed-wire barriers to keep protesters away from the palace," said Amin.
The scene was the result of more than two days of tense and sometimes violent protest outside the palace, after weeks of largely peaceful protests in nearby Tahrir Square -- the center of the 2011 uprising.
Opponents are furious over Morsy's recent decree that gave his decisions judicial immunity until a new constitution is approved. They have also denounced the proposed constitution, which they fear will give him even more power.
The document was drafted by a council dominated by Islamists, and the Muslim Brotherhood that helped propel Morsy to power, after liberal members walked out in protest over a lack of transparency in writing the constitution, as well as Morsy's actions.
In addition to the public protests, Egyptian judges and media organizations have staged strikes to show their displeasure with the situation.
Four of Morsy's own advisers also resigned Wednesday.
The latest was Amr Ellissy, who told the world via Twitter that he resigned "in protest of the constitutional declaration and the fact that I was not consulted in making these decisions."
Vice President Mahmoud Mekki called for a dialogue with opposition figures and asked critics to submit their proposals to change the disputed articles in the proposed constitution.
Opposition leaders are prepared to open talks with Morsy if he withdraws his decree and delays the referendum, said Mohamed ElBaradei, leader of the liberal Constitution Party and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, seemed less inclined to talk.
"We hold opposition figures, namely Sabbahi & ElBaradei, fully responsible for escalation of violence & inciting their supporters," said the Muslim Brotherhood said on Twitter.
In a statement Thursday, Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein said the protesters were not interested in democracy and accused them of using "crude and contemptible ways of expression, rather than (putting) their points across in a civilized manner."
Reza Sayah and Ian Lee reported from Cairo; Holly Yan reported from Atlanta. CNN's Saad Abedine and Amir Ahmed and journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy also contributed to this report.
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